Happy 4/20 ! Where Did "420" Come From?

For many cannabis enthusiasts, April 20th, or 4/20, is a special time of the year to celebrate the cannabis plant, fight for a change in drug policy, hit up a canna-themed concert or event, or simply kick back and relax with friends. For those who are new to cannabis and unaccustomed with this unofficial holiday, however, you’re likely curious about the significance of 420. Where does it come from? What does it mean? Why do we celebrate? How do we celebrate?

You may have heard the term used in many different ways, but whether it connotes a time of day, a day of the year, or an entire lifestyle for you, 420 is what binds the cannabis community together. Though it originally spread as an internal cuckoo clock for a single group of smokers, the term now refers to the ongoing fight for nationwide legalization and the spread of accessible information within both the medical and recreational communities. If you’re passing the pipe or rallying for your freedom, “420” is all you’ve got to say to let people know that you know what’s up. In the name of honoring the past and celebrating the present, here’s a crash course in all things 420 – the myths, the legacy, and the glorious revelry.

Where Did "420" Come From?

The origin story of 420 has been obscured by various rumors. Some say that it comes from the number of chemical compounds in cannabis; others suggest that it matches up with a mythical 4:20pm tea time in Holland; still others have stated that it coincides Bob Marley’s birthdate, or the death dates of Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix. It has also been explained as a police code for cannabis use. All of these are fictitious.

The truth is that 420 originated in the fall of 1971 at San Rafael High School, 30 minutes north of San Francisco. A group of students nicknamed “the Waldos” (so-called for their wall-centric hangout spot outside of the school) caught wind that a U.S. Coast Guardsman stationed at the nearby Point Reyes Lighthouse had abandoned a cannabis patch somewhere in the forest on the Point Reyes Peninsula after becoming nervous that it could be found by his commanding officer, jeopardizing his career. Not wanting the cannabis to go to waste, Newman drew a map for his brother-in-law Bill McNulty, who passed it along to his friends, the Waldos.

All five Waldos were athletes, so they planned to meet at their school’s Louis Pasteur statue after their team practices were over, at – you guessed it – 4:20pm. They would then smoke copiously before venturing into the forest armed with the treasure map, searching for the lost grow.

The search continued for weeks. Every day they planned to meet, the Waldos would remind each other in the hallways between classes: “4:20 Louie,” a phrase that was eventually shortened to “4:20.” Lamentably, the grow was never found. However, the Waldos continued to use their new code phrase to signal that it was time to smoke, and eventually to refer to anything cannabis-related.

This all came around the time that The Grateful Dead relocated from San Francisco to San Rafael. One Waldo’s older brother, who managed two Grateful Dead sidebands, was close friends and smoking buddies with bassist Phil Lesh, giving the Waldos access to Grateful Dead shows, rehearsals and parties. One of the Waldos, “Waldo Dave” Reddix, even tagged along with the Dead as a roadie during a summer tour.

From here, the phrase spread through the Grateful Dead community and across the nation. High Times caught wind of the phrase and began using it liberally in the early 90s. Over the years, it has established itself as an irrefutable cultural phenomenon, working its way into everything from social media handles to tattoos. And even in 2016, the legend continues to evolve; in February, the Waldos tracked down Gary Newman, the Coast Guardsman whose cannabis patch catalyzed 420, and explained how he had played a role in cannabis history.

The Waldos keep their old batik 420 flag and memorabilia locked away in a bank vault in San Francisco. While all five lead successful professional lives, they still keep in touch with each other, and continue to document their story at 420waldos.com. They are proud of their contribution to the cannabis community, and pleased that 4/20 is celebrated annually by so many around the world. “[The best part is] that on 4/20 people peacefully take a stand against the drug war and discuss tactics for abolishing prohibition,” says “Waldo Steve” Capper on behalf of all of the Waldos, “[and] that people celebrate the consumption of cannabis and spend time with friends being happy.”

How and Where is 4/20 Celebrated?

In the decades since its inception, 420 has been widely embraced as a de facto holiday for those who partake of the plant. You can attend a legalization rally, hit up a local or regional event, check out a canna-themed concert, take a trip with your friends, or simply enjoy a Netflix marathon with your favorite cannabis strain in the privacy and comfort of your own home. No matter where you are, there’s almost certainly something 420-inspired going on: check out the Leafly Events Calendar to find out what’s up in your area.

If you join in the party (and you certainly should), make sure that you do so responsibly. Regardless of cannabis legality in your location, public consumption can still lead to a fine, so be smart about how you celebrate. Moderation is key – whether you’re smoking, vaping, dabbing, or savoring edibles, you don’t need to impress anyone by blazing through enough to take down George Clinton and his entire Parliament-Funkadelic. Remember to hydrate throughout the day. Chew on some black peppercorns if you overdo it. And never, ever drive under the influence of cannabis.

Quiz: How Much Cannabis Do You Consume in a Year?

4/20 almost certainly represents cannabis consumption’s yearly high point, but have you ever wondered how much you consume over the course of a full year?

4/20 Myths and Their Origins

By Lisa Rough — 4/19/2016

The rumors and myths around 4/20 are random, ridiculous, and all too plentiful. We did some mythbusting to find the truth behind a few of the most popular stories that circulate around the holiday. Here’s what we uncovered.

1. MYTH: The police dispatch code for cannabis is ‘420’.
There’s a long-standing rumor that the police radio dispatch code for cannabis possession or public consumption in progress is ‘420’.


‘420’ is not the police code for cannabis smoking. In fact, it’s not the police code for anything (unless you’re in Las Vegas, in which case it’s the code for homicide. Buzzkill!)

One reason this particular rumor spread so far and wide is due to another canna-connection. Once, while on tour, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh attributed ‘420’ to a police code in San Rafael, rumored to be “marijuana smoking in progress.” He was wrong, but the rumor persisted, eventually becoming the stuff of legend. This was the first (but certainly not the last) time the Grateful Dead would be associated with famous 420 rumors.

2. MYTH: The California penal code for cannabis is ‘420’.


California Penal Code Section 420 refers to the unlawful hindrance or obstruction of a person from entering public land. Kinda boring, actually. Interestingly, there is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but it was (aptly) named after the cultural phenomenon, not the other way around.

3. MYTH: There are 420 chemical compounds in cannabis.


There are more than 500 identifiable chemical compounds in cannabis including 120 different terpenes and more than 70 different cannabinoids specific to cannabis alone.

4. MYTH: All of the clocks in the film Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20.


It’s safe to say that most of the clocks in Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20, but a few sharp-eyed movie buffs managed to find clocks in the film that don’t quite match up. That being said, it’s still a cool bit of movie trivia to drop on your friends.

5. MYTH: April 20 was Hitler’s birthday.


Unfortunately, this one is a fact, but it has absolutely nothing to do with cannabis. Hitler was a turd, and he doesn't get to ruin 4/20.

6. MYTH: April 20 was the date of the Columbine school shooting.


Sadly, this is true. However, the usage of the term 420 had already been popularized, and the shooting itself had no ties whatsoever to cannabis. In fact, it is rumored that the date, April 20, was chosen due to its connection to Hitler rather than the cannabis holiday.

7. MYTH: 4:20 p.m. is tea time for cannabis consumers in Holland.


There’s no set tea time in Holland, and there’s certainly no consensus on 4:20. If you woke up to coffee from South or Central America this morning, though, you can thank the Dutch (kind of) for that.

8. MYTH: The first dose of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was taken at 4:20 p.m.


This is a curious one. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, synthesized the first batch of LSD on Nov. 16, 1938. It wasn’t until five years later that its psychedelic properties were discoverd. On April 16, 1943, while reexamining the substance, Hofmann accidentally touched his hand to his mouth, ingesting a small amount. He noticed the effects and decided to investigate further. Three days later, on April 19, 1943, at 4:20 p.m., Hofmann intentionally dosed himself with 250 mg of lysergic acid diethylamide, in what would become the first purposeful acid trip. He began to notice the effects as he rode his bicycle home from the laboratory, and the day later came to be known as Bicycle Day. No connection to cannabis aside from 4:20 p.m., but an interesting tidbit, nonetheless.

9. MYTH: 4/20 is the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death.


Nope. Robert Nesta Marley (may he rest in peace) was born Feb 6, 1945 and died on May 11, 1981. So, while you might be jamming out to “Sun is Shining” on 4/20, the reggae superstar had no connection to the date aside from his love of cannabis. One love, yo. Also, FWIW, the day has no relation to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or Jim Morrison (aside from the simple fact that they were all known to enjoy cannabis).


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